North­eastern junior Jose Orozco recently won a 2011 Gold­water Schol­ar­ship, an honor that rec­og­nizes out­standing under­grad­uate aca­d­emic achieve­ment in math­e­matics, nat­ural sci­ences, and engineering.

Orozco, a math­e­matics and bio­chem­istry double major, learned of his award last month. No more than 300 stu­dents each year win the pres­ti­gious schol­ar­ship, which covers tuition, fees, books and room and board, up to a max­imum of $7,500 per year.

Orozco praises Northeastern’s coop­er­a­tive edu­ca­tion pro­gram for “making all the dif­fer­ence in the world.” His expe­ri­en­tial learning oppor­tu­ni­ties included work in biology labs at North­eastern, Princeton Uni­ver­sity and the National Insti­tutes of Health, where he studied cancer cell migration.

If I had not gone on co-​​op, I wouldn’t know half the things I know now,” says Orozco, who plans to study neu­rode­gen­er­a­tive dis­or­ders through his next co-​​op job at the Memo­rial Sloan-​​Kettering Cancer Center, in New York.

Class is impor­tant,” he says, “but when you have to come up with your own exper­i­ments in the lab, you really appre­ciate the process of sci­ence. That’s when you really start to learn.”

Under the direc­tion of biology pro­fessor Erin Cram, Orozco cur­rently studies how round­worms sense and respond to mechan­ical stimuli.

Cram, who says Orozco exhibits an unusu­ally high level of enthu­siasm and curiosity in the lab, praises the student-​​researcher for his com­bi­na­tion of tech­nical skills and creativity.

He’s always coming up with new exper­i­ments to try,” she says. “A lot of under­grad­u­ates are able to see what a pro­fessor tells them to see, but Jose really sees in a much more sci­en­tific way than most stu­dents do.”

Orozco plans to pursue an M.D.-Ph.D. pro­gram upon grad­u­a­tion, when he’ll have the oppor­tu­nity to pursue his goal of finding cures for dis­ease through the study of stem cells.

A pro­fessor told me to aspire to be someone who knows the most about a cer­tain sub­ject,” Orozco says, “and I think this degree com­bi­na­tion can do that.”

To be eli­gible for the schol­ar­ship, a stu­dent must be a col­lege sopho­more or junior with a grade-​​point average of at least a B and in the upper 25th per­centile of the class, according to the Gold­water Schol­ar­ship website.